Some movies are great films because of the firm hand directing them. Many Fincher films are like that, like Gone Girl. Some films are strong because of their ensemble's chemistry with each other, like Our Idiot Brother. Some films are excellent because they have a tight script, or their sound is spectacular. But some films are great films based solely on the single lead actor's performance. Nightcrawler is one of those movies.
I do not like Jake Gyllenhaal. He is not an actor I have come to like, and in fact, I have in the past said that he makes a bad leading man that brings down films he is the leading man of. And Gyllenhaal knocks this movie right out of the park with his spectacular performance. Nightcrawler is a character study about an odd thief who finds a new line of work in "night crawling" or following the police scanner for violent and terrible crimes, filming it, and selling it to networks for their morning news. And that is what this movie is, watching Lou Bloom, Gyllenhaal's character, and slowly picking apart and learning what kind of man he is.
As an actor, I love a character study. And as a film guy, I love a character study. The Hurt Locker I've said many times before is one of my favorite films because it is an intense character study of what makes the lead man, Jeremy Renner's character, do what he does. Pain & Gain is another film I love with some intense ensemble character acting. Birdman has some incredible acting in it, Oscar award nominee deserving acting. And Nightcrawler is ... almost as good as those films. It isn't Gyllenhaal's fault, let me be clear.
Explain yourself then, me! To them, because I already know. Because I add the gifs after I finish the review. So yeah, me, tell 'em!
Film is a collaborative effort. I mentioned and linked to Gone Girl above, and that film I gave a B+ to because even though the directing is phenomenal, the script and dialogue left some to be desired. Nightcrawler has an incredible leading performance that has drastically turned me around on my thoughts of Jake Gyllenhaal ... but the direction by first-time director, multi-time writer Dan Gilroy made some odd choices that took me out of the film. A lot of heavy-handed imagery, some odd choices for how to portray tension in a scene with obnoxious close-ups, and some fatty bits of other characters and scenes that really needed to be as slickly edited as the rest of the film all left me a little colder to the overall product. All understandable for a first time director, but nonetheless a little on the nose.
This is a good movie. A very good one. And it tries to be great. Gilroy writes a fantastic script. And Gyllenhaal was more than excellent. Small acting choices, or the disturbing lack of expression or wit makes Lou Bloom a fascinating character that will keep me coming back to the film over and over. But every time I come back, I will once again see a heavy-handed montage of satellites and wires to show news being broadcast, or the final shot's slow obnoxious zoom, or myriad other things that all make this film a little harder to stay invested with. This is the perfect example of a "B" film under my grading system. It is a great movie, with some large flaws that keep it from reaching what it really could have been.
EDIT: I made a huge mistake in my original posting of this review, attributing the film to Michael Mann. I do not know why or how I confused Michael Mann into the mix of this film, as he is nowhere near this movie. The closest he was ... was in the trailer for Blackhat that was before this movie. Somehow I mashed them together. So I need to say now that knowing that this is a first time directing part for Dan Gilroy, who wrote the wonderful Real Steel and the AMAZING The Fall, I really have come to like this movie a lot more. It is still a B for me on the pure objective side of things, but I love Gilroy, and as weird as it sounds, to hear this is his first gig as a director makes me like the movie even more than I already did.
My apologies to anyone I steered wrong earlier, but there we go, caught it and fixed it.